Question: Web Design History?

I am currently teaching introduction to graphic design at CDIA Boston University. The class is an exploration of basic design fundamentals reinforced by corresponding examples of revolutionary works of Design. It also happens to be the first class in an  extensive design program, so it is very important to expose the students to a wide variety of design disciplines  including environmental graphics, poster design, typography, book, branding, package design and even web design.

Skimming the history of design, there are works that have revolutionized the industry “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk” Souvenir Brochurecreated by  un-refuted masters of the craft. They have won awards, been published in textbooks, and are internationally recognized as being hands down the most Bad Ass works of visual communication in existence. There are pieces that effortlessly jump from the pages of design history books to use as reference in my class. There is  Milton Glaser’s 1967 Bob Dylan poster which is  now part of the collection at the Museum of Modern art in New York, Paula’s Scher’s “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk” series which changed the way designers approached typography in the late 90s, and Landor & Associates famous arrow in  the FedEx logo design which still gets gasps of pure genius when examined ( still blows my mind ).

The Arow in the FedEx Logo Revealed

But when I sat down to pull out  sites from the history of web design, I found myself a little stumped.  While the history advancements regarding technical limitations is documented in books such as “Designing with Standards” by Jeffery Zeldman, it is difficult to determine specific sites that serve as icons of that particular movement. What are the revolutionary pieces of undeniable web design genius?

I have my personal preferences, the pieces that are benchmarks in the evolution of web design, but how do they stand up to the actual un-biased history of web design?

Searching Amazon for he term “history of web design” The first book that pops up is “Meggs History of Graphic Design” and the  titles that follow  all  address either history of all design or just topics in web design… but not the history of web design. Under Wikipedia’s definition of Web Design the only site referenced  is “CSS Zen Garden“, which is a fantastic example… but is it the only one? Under Wikipedia’s definition of Graphic Design web design is mentioned throughout, but no actual web designers or websites are ever referenced, though several designers in other disciplines are, including Paul Rand and Milton Glaser.

So where is the formal documentation of the evolution of web design? Is it too early to even document it? What sites have revolutionized the industry and how have they effected the progression of visual design on the web? Who are the Milton Glasers and Paul Rand’s of this discipline?

I have my opinions but I want to hear yours.

In the comments, please reference specific sites that should go down in history as defining the evolution of web design. Make sure to include an e-mail address or a link back to your site and if I get more than 10 awesome examples, I will put all of the names of commenters in a hat and draw one to send a paperback copy of Graphic Design, the New Basics by Ellen Lupton. Why? Because it is a damn fine explanation of the elements and principles, and I love spreading the good word of web design. I have no real affiliation with Ms Lupton (Though it would be awesome if we were BFFs).  So have at it, I look forward to your responses.


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